For the purposes of this essay, you are the vacuum. Not a Hoover, not a Roomba, not a Dyson. You are the abhor’d void, in any state. The supernumerary eyes which seem to gaze at me also from you, the abyss, are but reflections of my own searching gaze, broken into a billion billion facets. I am the fly. I am form. Just play along.
In forty-two minutes I’ll be forty-four years old—sixteen thousand and sixty days into my tenure on earth, managing the bathetic affairs of this laughable body for the edification of no one. Before I was born, I was naught—a circle slashed diagonally. Zero was the invention of the Sumerians, whose city of Ur was so fertile with firsts that we use that name, ‘Ur,’ as a prefix to signify primogeniture.
Nihilism, the belief in nothing, posits the illegitimacy of all wish-fulfillment excursions into the twisty little passages of faith. To be a nihilist, one must take that simple, germinal premise on the face of it. Paradoxically, a leap of faith is called for, if one is to deny the set of all possible propositions. This is merely another anecdotal illustration of the flimsiness of the devices we use to apprehend the unruly rigamarole of nature. It’s another example of incompleteness, as in the incompleteness theorem nailed to the door of mathematics by Kurt Godel. Our perceptual apparatus is but a screen, and behind it, all that is great and terrible hides its charlatan certitude. When we say, ‘This statement is not true’ we admit a truth whose value transcends the binary babytalk of our crude language.
“There is no contradiction between free will and knowing in advance
precisely what one will do. If one knows oneself completely
then this is the situation. One does not deliberately do
the opposite of what one wants.”
—Kurt Godel, from Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker
Someone wipe the chalkboard free of everything we think we know. Upon this palimpsest of erased thought, let the foundation be laid for our ziggurat of higher truth. Let this foundation consist of an applied nihilism, that we may admit our lack of knowledge up front and acknowledge in preamble to any thesis we promulgate the innate silliness of all our attempts to constrain inane happenstance within the frippery of our causal fancy. Next, we are called upon, as creatures with active, errant, self-inflicted imaginations, to apply our narrative facilities to the task—the responsibilty—of building a mature edifice worthy of our rudimentary consciousness.
Let us, finally, grow into our human vestments. Let us treat comfort as necrosis and let us please mute the useless yapping of our vestigial fight-or-flight instincts. Playtime is over; you don’t get a trophy just for being you. Finding yourself is only the prep work for losing yourself, and only then will you begin the work of becoming unique. Identity is theft, and human life is our least precious resource (you can tell by how loudly we howl otherwise); you can stop flowing down the path of least resistance by doing what comes least natural to you, and you can become your best, least statistically likely iteration with the help of a compass, with which you can chart your course for that role none but you and your innate bias can characterize.
“The illusion of the passage of time arises from the confusing of the given with the real. Passage of time arises because we think of occupying different realities. In fact, we occupy only different givens. There is only one reality.”
—Kurt Godel, from Infinity and the Mind by Rudy Rucker
Platonism is a denigrated artifact of philosophy’s early days. It is, in meager words, the idea that ideas have a geometric structure that exists independently of our invocation of them. There are five Platonic solids, “convex polyhedra with equivalent faces composed of congruent convex regular polygons.” But there are no cubes, nor tetrahedrons, nor octahedrons, nor icosahedrons, nor dodecahedrons in the natural world. On a piece of vellum we may draft them into flatland with rigorous precision; on a screen, we may spin their vectors on the lathe of software; we may spit diamond-perfect models of these five ineluctable solids into our hands with a three-dimensional printer of the highest possible fidelity. But these shadows are as far from the ineffable cave-things themselves as Plato is from being Socrates.
“Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form.”
—Degas, Portraits en Frise
‘Drawing is a way of seeing,’ is a commonplace quote among those who enjoy the unending learning curve that the discipline of drawing provides. When we draw from life, we constrain a three-dimensional tableau into a planar facsimile of two dimensions. This facility teaches us to see the world afresh. We learn that if we transcribe too slavishly the occipital balance of light, our drawing somehow fails to evoke a viable view of the world; we have taken inventory, but no one wishes to browse our goods. At this point, a level of proficiency is attained if the student arrogates for him or herself the role of interpreter, telling the story he or she sees with all the narrative magnetism it takes to hold and keep the eyes and the attention spans of others. Now the pupil is fully dilated. It takes an active participant of our consensus, scripted reality to develop, within the camera obscura of our minds, the ability to see the rays of the secret sun, by whose occult wavelength the Platonic essence of all we behold is illumined. All the rapturous, vivid je ne sais quoi of art is crafted by the glow of this lucid, flaming orb. We honor our birthright as sapient beings, made in the image of God, when we open the third eye of our minds and rejoice in the delightful, convivial connivance of cosmological make-believe.
To be continued…